Proud to be a Texan

This has been a very busy month so far, as have the last few months. I’m having a hard time keeping up with my blogging obligations, and ended up dropping one. And I almost forgot this one. Besides having family here, we’ve been hard hit with weather in the Dallas and East Texas areas.

I live in Tornado Alley, and this Spring things have been especially active. We’ve had rain nearly every day since the first of January. At the beginning of the year, we were in a serious drought. Today, some of our lakes are so full they’re having to release water to prevent flooding. (And we’re still flooded in some areas) That’s a big turnaround in only 4 1/2 months! Unfortunately, along with the rain, we often get lots of lightning, hail, high winds, and tornadoes.

Last Sunday (Mother’s Day) was a very rough day. Big storms all day long, lots of tornado warnings, and a few tornadoes touched down. I spent most of the day worried about my oldest daughter and her boys, as they were in one of the hardest hit areas. I stayed glued to the weather reports. By Sunday night, my home was in the bulls eye.

We were lucky. The storm split, with part going a bit west of us and the other part going a bit east of us. We got heavy rain and lightning, but that’s all. Just a couple of towns east, they weren’t so lucky. Tornadoes destroyed about 30% of the town of Van in Van Zandt County, TX. Two people were killed (a retired police officer and his wife), and more than two dozen seriously injured, some critically. The elementary and middle schools were so severely damaged that school has been cancelled for the remainder of the school year.

You can see video of the damage, courtesy of KLTV Channel 7

But Texans don’t go down without a fight. The outpouring of support has been amazing. They’ve had so much water and clothing donated that they’ve had to stop taking any more. There are volunteer sign up lists with huge numbers of people joining up, people offering everything from storage buildings to equipment to free meals, rescues gathering up loose pets to hold and get veterinary care for until their owners are able to reclaim them, and churches throwing their doors open wide to take in the displaced, feeding and clothing them and helping them get the services they need.

Yep, I’m proud to be a Texan. We might live in a dangerous spot, weather-wise, but we take care of our own.

Do you have a disaster plan in place? What would you do if something happened and you lost everything? It can happen without warning. Whether from a tornado, fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, a disaster plan can help you stay alive. Did you know wearing a helmet during a tornado or hurricane could save your life? (A lot of people die of head injuries from flying or falling debris) Do you have extra water and canned food on hand for you and your pets? Do you have working flashlights or lanterns? Where would you and your family meet up if you got separated?

It’s important to have a plan, and to practice with your kids. It could save a life.

Come join me and author Jessie Evans this Friday from two to five Central time for a Facebook party celebrating small town Texas and Texas cowboys! We’ll be having contests and giving away prizes. https://www.facebook.com/JessieEvansRomance?ref=hl

Rookie justice meme 20001-48814190

 

When Life Hands You Lemons…Juice Them!

I’m on a new health kick. Well, not really a kick, but a life change. I got sick of being sick, tired, brain-fogged, and fat, and decided to join in on the Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead revolution. Since it so totally described how I felt in the title, it seemed appropriate. I went to www.rebootwithjoe.com and started reading.

My youngest son is getting married in October and I didn’t want my pictures to look like the ones from my oldest son’s wedding. That was my first motivation. But beyond looks, I needed to get myself under control. I was drinking two liters of Dr Pepper or Mr. Pibb a day. Every day. Yeah, stupid, but I have a chronic sore throat/sore tongue thing that only soda seemed to relieve.

We ate fairly healthy, but our meals were way too meat heavy. I cut out most processed foods a long time ago because of gluten-intolerance, but the meat sat pretty heavy on my stomach and took forever to digest. I had acid reflux, bloating, tired skin, achy joints, high blood pressure, and an addiction to chocolate.

In other words, if I didn’t make a change in my eating and drinking habits, I was a disaster waiting to happen.

So we started juicing a little over two weeks ago. I read and studied up on which veggies help which conditions. With a list in hand, I hit the markets and grocery store. Where I normally spent $150 on groceries, I spent $100. I buy organic as much as possible. Hubby pitched in to help, and he’s been good about helping since we started. I think he wants me to succeed as much as I do.

healthy juice

The results so far? Down 12 pounds, pain significantly reduced, kicked the soda habit (well, I still want one. I’m just not giving in). I’m sleeping 7-8 hours a night instead of waking up after five because my hips hurt. I enjoy the juicing where I hated to cook. My mind is so much clearer, my muse is back to work, my concentration is better. I’m drinking fruits and vegetables that I wouldn’t even consider eating, getting my full RDA of both that I’ve never had when eating. I juice cucumbers, pineapple, celery, kale, mango, cabbage–things I don’t like–along with carrots, apples, strawberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and ginger. Amazingly, it tastes great!

Even jury duty, my mom falling and needing 7 staples in her head, and taxes haven’t deterred me from my plan. Now when I go to the grocery store, I’m not tempted by chocolate, cookies, soda. Nothing is calling my name but fruits and veggies. This is huge for me.

My point with this post is if this soda-addicted, sugar-absorbed, steak-loving writer can learn new, healthier habits, anyone can. If you’re young, the time to change is now. Believe me, when you get to be my age, you’ll thank yourself for not waiting.

What about you? Anything you need to change in your life but need the motivation to get it done?

Oh, another upside…my new heroine is a food blogger who comes up with familiar, favorite recipes that are far healthier than the originals. I get to use my research to better myself as well. I found a recipe for a strawberry/banana smoothie that I adjusted to fit our lifestyle better, and it is awesome. Better than any strawberry shake from Sonic or Dairy Queen.

2 frozen bananas

1 package frozen strawberries

1 can coconut cream

4 oz probiotic vanilla yogurt

Add all to a blender and enjoy!

strawberry shake

Tori

Rookie justice meme 20001-48814190

Never Give Up

Some days you just want to quit. To walk away from everything, as if that would somehow solve all your problems. But most of us can’t do that, either because we’re good people who would never abandon those who love and depend on us, or because we know the problems would still be there. They might be a different set of problems, but if you’re breathing, you will have problems.

The book I just released, Rookie Justice, had me in tears at some points. I wanted to hit delete and forget it. It was never going to get finished. My muse had apparently had it with the cold weather and hitched a ride to a beach somewhere. While I was here, shivering and struggling for every single word, she was sipping a Mai Tai and digging her toes into the sand.

I tried everything. Hot baths, long naps, going to bed early because that’s always when inspiration used to strike–as soon as my head hit the pillow. Nope, didn’t work. I increased my protein, just in case my brain was starving or something. I took my vitamins and B-12 every day. But no long strings of dialogue ran through my mind, no plot twists–or even a plot–magically appeared.

I had to slog it out. Some days I was lucky if I got a page written in a 4 hour stare-at-the-screen session. Other days, Zynga games seemed a lot more appealing than my hero and heroine. But finally, somewhere around the middle of the book, ideas began to form. Just a tiny thought, or something the hubby said, or maybe it was the threat of us starving if I didn’t just finish the da*%ned book, but they were ideas, and I grabbed them and wrestled them onto the page.

I wanted to quit. I really, really did. But quitting wouldn’t make my problems go away. Another book wouldn’t be any easier. And finishing finally seemed easier than quitting.

So, I now have a new release, and I’m already at work on a new one. Or I’m at least staring at a new screen with a few pages written. 🙂

Rookie justice meme 2

 

It’s the sequel to Lone Star Justice.

A home-grown killer blows a small town's

 

Have you ever felt like giving up? Did you do it, or did you keep on and overcome the problem?

You’re all invited to join me and 12 other authors for a March Madness Book Frenzy party on Facebook this Sunday, March 15th, from 11 a.m. to midnight, EST. We’ll be giving away books and other prizes, and we’ll have a fantastic Grand Prize for a lucky winner.

MMF2

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/847938481916360

Now, if Spring would hurry up and get here, I’d be a very happy camper!

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day–Love it or Leave it?

Valentine’s Day is this Saturday. I used to love it and looked forward to it with anticipation. But it’s lost its attraction over the past few years. Not because of anything the hubby has done or hasn’t done, but because I’m so tired of all the “Hallmark Holidays.” You’d think a romance writer would be more enthusiastic, wouldn’t you?

I still remember the best Valentine’s Days over the years. Hubby has never been one to spend a lot of money (because we’ve never had a lot), but he always came up with the perfect thing. One year it was a rose bush planted in our yard–so I could have roses all the time and not just for a few days. Another year it was a gardenia bush planted outside our bedroom window because I loved the scent.

One year we were both in college, with two kids under 3 years old, and living on bologna sandwiches. He really splurged that year and brought home two steaks. Never had anything taste so good.

We’ve never taken romantic trips, gone out on the town, or splurged on expensive restaurant meals for Valentine’s Day. We prefer to stay home and maybe fix a special meal. The last couple of years, though, we’ve mostly said Happy Valentine’s Day, exchanged candy (or maybe nothing at all), and that’s been enough.

What about you? Do you go all out to celebrate the holiday? Do you ignore it completely? Or are you somewhere in between?

Tori

New Year’s Resolutions vs Goals

I used to do the whole New Year’s resolutions thing, and I failed miserably. Invariably they involved losing weight, giving up bad habits, exercising more. I’d be good for maybe the first week, and then it would all fall by the wayside.

This year, I’m trying something new and so far it seems to be working. I’ve set goals for myself that don’t have to do with how I look or how I eat–though we’ve been working toward a healthier way of eating for the past couple of years. These goals involve what I hope to accomplish. They’re about writing, about getting organized, about getting my life together.

Writing–my goal this year is to write every day. Even when I don’t want to, even when the words don’t want to come, even when life interferes. I didn’t set a word goal, just the goal to write something. Every single day.

Getting organized–my goal is to do something every day. Accomplish something. Clean out a drawer, a closet, a box, a file. Get rid of some clutter. File receipts. Doesn’t really matter what, so long as I do something.

Getting my life together–this one is harder. I don’t know exactly what it is that is out of kilter, just that something is. So I’m exploring options. Education, a new job with insurance benefits, making moves toward a dream of getting an RV and traveling part of the year. I’ve sent out resumes, looked into online advanced degree programs, joined some full-time RV groups to glean ideas, and started a planning notebook. Maybe I won’t get my life together this year, but I will make progress.

A few other things I’ve done this year is cut back expenses to the bare bones. The only time I’ve left my house all month is to go to the grocery store, where I buy only what I need to fix the meals I’ve planned for the next two weeks. I shop the outside aisles, only venturing into the dangerous inner aisles when I need a specific item on my list. So far I’ve slashed the grocery bill in half by not aimlessly wandering the aisles. We haven’t spent a dime on eating out, haven’t wasted money on a movie, haven’t gone shopping for non-food items.

I know I can’t sustain this frugal existence for the whole year. I have a son getting married this year, I have to go visit my mom in Colorado because she’s at the point where she can’t come to us, and there are birthdays and grandkid events we’ll need to attend. But right now I still have the same gas in my tank that I started the year with, and I’m pretty happy about that.

I’ve passed up a great deal on two leather recliners because now is not the best time to spend money I don’t have to spend. I’ve passed up a great deal on flannel sheets because the ones we have are good enough. Not great, but enough for this season. I’ve passed up great deals on laptops because mine hasn’t quit yet. If it does, I’m in trouble, but I’m hoping it will get me through another year.

If I’d started this 40 years ago, we’d be in a lot better shape than we are now. Like they say, hindsight is 20-20, and I didn’t have the ability in my 20’s to look ahead and see what I would need when I was 60, what I would wish I’d done when I was younger. But what about you? If you’re under 40, start now and look ahead. Do what you can now to prepare for the days ahead when you won’t have the strength, the finances, the mental clarity to do the things you want to do. Get your life together while you can.

I think that’s one reason I tend to write heroines who know what they want and go after it. I never knew what I wanted as a teenager or young adult. I wandered through life aimlessly, like I used to do at the grocery store, and it’s cost me. I don’t want to be that way anymore, so I’m trying to live my life with purpose, making it happen rather than letting it happen.

My book sales started plummeting a couple of months ago, and for a while I let it happen, blaming the Amazon KU program, the lack of a new book release, etc. Then I decided to put Blame it on Texas up for free on Amazon. It’s the first book in the seven-book Lone Star Cowboys series. I was nervous, worried about losing the income from one of my biggest selling books. But I wasn’t going to let life happen anymore. If I wanted more sales, I had to make it happen.

It worked. My sales are back up to normal levels, I have 14 great new reviews and some new fans, and sales of subsequent books in the series are increasing every day.

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Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Set Goals? How is it working out for you so far?

 

 

Christmas in Main Street, USA

I live outside of a small town (population 3600), in a rural area populated by many similar small towns. The county seats have courthouse squares surrounded by small, locally-owned business. It’s a great place to live any time of the year, but it’s especially nice at Christmastime.

The decorations go up right after Thanksgiving. Our little town has a community tree, lit up with lights, and every lamp post has decorations hanging from it. The businesses are lined with white lights, all the way through downtown, bringing a sense of unity to the area. Every December we have Christmas on the Bricks (brick streets) with vendors, a parade, talent contests, and a giveaway.

lamppost_198160

The above is repeated in town after town. You could spend the entire month just visiting all the fairs, craft bazaars, choir programs, plays, concerts, and bake sales. When it comes to Christmas, small towns do it up right.

I remember when I was a kid, downtown Dallas was the place to go to see Christmas decorations. The big department stores like Sanger’s, Neiman-Marcus, and Titche-Goettinger used to go all out on window displays that had nothing to do with merchandise for sale, but rather they were designed to delight the children. Santa Claus and the elves, mechanical, moving animals, nutcrackers and nativity scenes. Trains and sleighs, angels and carolers, they all made Christmas a magical time.

nutcracker_christmas_decoration[1]

Now it’s lights and lingerie, jewelry and fancy trees. The magic has faded into commercialism. We’ve forgotten that Christmas is about the children. Now it’s who can buy the latest and greatest electronic toy that numbs the mind rather than stimulates the imagination. It’s grownups trying to outdo each other, divorced parents trying to one-up each other, thinking they’ll gain the kids’ affections by what they can buy them.

I challenge you this Christmas to take a moment to just stop. Think back to when you were a child. What made Christmas magical? It wasn’t a $400 PS4 or a $600 phone. We never would have even thought of anything like that. It was a yo-yo, a Barbie–and if you’d been really good, a dollhouse to go with it, a book, or a new dress. It was special treats, a drive to see the lights, going caroling with friends, picking out the Christmas tree.

santa039s_reindeer

Can we go back to the way things were? I doubt it. But we can choose what we emphasize at Christmas. If you’re a Christian, the focus should be on the belief, the story of Christ. If not, I have to ask why you celebrate at all? Even then, you could focus on doing good for others, on sharing with the less fortunate, on family. Focusing on the gifts only encourages the commercialism that bankrupts far too many families at a time of year when we should be thankful for what we already have.

So this year, take your kids to see the lights, to watch the parades, to see the Nutcracker at the ballet, or make some cookies with them. Make some memories. They’ll remember those long after the toys are gone.

If you need some ideas for activities to do with the kids, check out our free Holiday Decorating book.

 

Holiday Decorating, a Free Companion Book to Christmas on Main Street 2014

Holiday Decorating, a Free Companion Book to Christmas on Main Street 2014

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas!

 

Getting Ready for the Busy Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again. You know what I’m talking about. That time when we run non-stop, shopping, cleaning, cooking, entertaining…and we do it for weeks on end. Sometimes we wonder why we do this to ourselves every year, but the answer is obvious. We do it out of love–love for our families, love for our friends. We’re women, and it’s what we do.bigstock-Abstract-Christmas-background--26329868

But all that stress can wear you down, making you vulnerable to germs the family brings with them. So as you begin the marathon time of taking care of everyone else, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. If you don’t, you may find yourself stuck in bed while others eat all that food you cooked!

Take at least an hour a day just for yourself. Take a long bath. Take a walk. Read a good book or watch your favorite television show while curled up on the couch with your hubby or your pet. Take a nap. Take time to just breathe and relax. Then get back to the hustle and bustle of the season, refreshed and renewed.

I’m the queen of cleaning for company. Here are my top ten tips for getting ready for visitors.

1. Make a detailed list of every single thing you need to do to get your house company ready, from washing the china to dusting under the couch. It’s extremely satisfying to mark each item off the list and you won’t lie awake at night trying to think of what you need to do the next day.

2. Do one room at a time, and don’t move on to the next until it’s completed. I used to bounce around all over the house, dusting, sweeping, etc. until I realized how much easier it was to stay in one room, working until everything on my list was done. I start in the farthest room from the main living area so I don’t give up. I know the main areas HAVE to get cleaned, so I save them for the final days before company arrives.

3. Make menus for every meal you’re going to cook well ahead of time and start picking up the items you’ll need well in advance. (Make a grocery list as you plan the menu) That way you’re not spending the rent money on groceries at the last minute or spending hours in the grocery store trying to get everything on your list.

4. Take one day to wash all the bedding and make all the beds. Yes, I know I just said do one room at a time, but you can strip the bed as you clean that room, then make the bed on that one day reserved for that chore. Seriously, it’s much easier and you won’t forget whether you changed the sheets or not.

5. Make a list for hubby and the kids, too. Why should you do all the work? Yes, I know sometimes it’s easier to just do it yourself, but it’s a bad habit to get into and it deprives the rest of the family of fulfilling their responsibilities. Check items off as they’re completed so they get that same sense of satisfaction.

6. Make gift wrapping a family affair. Fix hot chocolate and a favorite dessert, put on the Christmas music, get down on the floor, and get the chore done in a flurry of paper, ribbon, laughter, and fun.

7. Cook ahead if you can. Not everyone has the refrigerator or freezer space to do this, but it’s a huge help if you can bake and freeze cookies, pies, cakes, rolls, casseroles, and even candy ahead of time. Then you’ll have time to enjoy your company instead of being stuck in the kitchen.

8. Buy the best products you can afford for cleaning and polishing. While you might be able to pick up bargain products at the dollar store, there are some things worth paying a little extra for. One of my favorite products is Howard Feed-n-Wax Wood Polish and Conditioner. Why? Because I can dust with it and not have to dust again for a week or more. I can clean my hardwood floors with it and they’ll shine their way through to the new year. It can turn old, faded wood into something that looks brand new, including your kitchen cabinets. Yes, it’s more expensive that a can of dusting spray, but totally worth it.

9. Gather up all the items in the main living areas that don’t add to the charm that is your home at holiday time, stick them in a box, and put them in the garage. Things like magazines, newspapers you haven’t read yet, ragged couch pillows, knick knacks that don’t go with the holiday, junk mail, coupons, whatever clutters up the house and doesn’t add to the ambiance, get it out of the way. It will make your home look cleaner and more inviting, and it cuts down on things you have to keep picking up and cleaning around. You can bring the box back in after the holidays, but you might decide you like your house better without all that stuff. Also, clear the kitchen counters of things you won’t be using during the holiday time. Your kitchen will look better and you’ll have more room to work.

10. Try to finish your list at least a day or two before company arrives. That way you”ll just need to do one last speed clean of vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting before you reward yourself with a bubble bath and a good book–which will leave you refreshed and ready to take on the days ahead.

As I write this, I have company arriving in less than 2 weeks. We’re still in the process of a total kitchen remodel, so I have boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling, holding nearly every kitchen item I’m going to need. The living room is piled high with construction materials, sinks, flooring, paint, stain, tiles, boxes, and tools, and everything is covered in a thick layer of sheet rock dust and saw dust. We have at least another week of work on the kitchen, so that will leave me only one week to unpack the kitchen, clear out the construction mess, and get things ready for company.

Can I do it? Lord, I hope so. I’m going to try my best, but my lists are going to get a real work out. Somewhere on that list is a hot bubble bath and a copy of Christmas on Main Street that I’m hoping to re-read to get me into the holiday spirit. XMAS 2014sm 849 x 500

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you have a great time with family and friends.